Just when you think women are considered equals to men in American society — if you even do think that — something always crops up to reinforce that we’re really not. Sports is one arena where the inequities can still be seen quite clearly.
Title IX is under attack because, heaven forbid, it gives girls and women equal opportunity to play sports. And once they’re actually out there playing, girls and women are still considered an afterthought to boys’ and men’s programs. Look at women’s college team names, for example, names like, Lady Volunteers or Lady Tigers. The men’s teams don’t need qualifiers in front of their names. They’re just the Volunteers or the Tigers, not the Gentleman Volunteers or Gentlemen Tigers. If you put a qualifier in front of only one set of names, you immediately signal that there’s something not quite fully authentic about that set. The real teams are the men’s teams — you know this because their team names have no qualifiers.
Now, look at this photo from today’s Boston Marathon, and then tell me that the real runner isn’t the man, defending men’s champion Timothy Cherigat of Kenya. He’s obviously the authentic #1, while the woman standing next to him, defending women’s champion Catherine Ndereba, also of Kenya, is merely a female #1.
I’m sure some of you will argue that, after all, Cherigat was the very first runner to cross the finish line at last year’s marathon and that Ndereba was simply the first female to cross the finish line. Her overall finish was 13th. That’s a valid point. But I wonder: some day, if a woman finishes first overall — and some argue that it’s possible because women’s times keep closing in on men’s — will she get the plain #1 and the man an M1?
And why can’t Cherigat simply hold a sign that says M1 right now? If we have separate men’s and women’s categories for the race, why is only one of those categories labeled? Once you get past the elite runners, many women start crossing the finish line sooner than men do. Why are those women wearing an F in front of their number and the men not wearing an M?
In order to be equals in society, women need semantic equality included in the package. Otherwise, the special names given to women simply reveal their unequal status in the eyes of sports writers, sports fans, athletic directors, sports promoters and owners, and more importantly, even society at large.
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